October Peace

I open the windows to the morning breeze
so the whole house breathes
this stunning, airy light.
From the table, I watch as the maples
give back summer one leaf at a time
falling like a whisper to the ground.
It’s true, I am sometimes tormented by fear.
I’ve spent hours alone in an uneasy silence
certain that this will be the day
I look back on as the one
where the whole black business first began.
And yet here I am, oblivious
because the sun filters through a crystal light
with such clarity
that for the eternity of this moment
even the clocks stop marking time.

Published in US 1 Worksheets, Vol 61, 2015

Summer’s End, 1980

It’s the last day of summer
you’re with your best friends
and you don’t understand
how these obliging days
shagging flies
roasting hot dogs on sticks
shouting from the high dive
are about to end
and nothing like them
will happen again
so when you walk the tracks in the afternoon
that last day before high school
and the train comes on
with its menacing eye
you’re staggered and mute
as you watch it arrive
and it will be years until
you understand why.

Published in US 1 Worksheets, Vol 60, 2015

Poetry Night, First Grade

There you are in a folding chair
watching your daughter, who’s six
climb the stairs to face the audience
on poetry night. Lovely and slender
she moves towards the mike
the room hushed;
parents whisper and sigh
at her missing front teeth
when she starts to read. Six lines
that’s all it takes
and for one minute on a Tuesday night
your daughter reads her poem
and when she smiles at you from across the stage
all the tangled strings of your life
neatly fold like fingers into a contented lap
and everything makes perfect sense.

Published in US 1 Worksheets, Vol 55, 2010

The Maroon Raleigh

My father’s idea of a kid’s bike
was a maroon three-speed Raleigh
brought home for my tenth birthday
and while the other kids rode Sting-Ray or Huffy
I had this finely molded English cruiser
for taking on the rocks and creeks
behind the swim club
or along the tracks that ran through town
and once even to the highway malls
dodging cars in a sweat on the afternoon rush

Like any father and son
we’d learn to argue in the years to come
like during college
when he called me a Bolshevik
which I wore like a badge
and I let him know
what really happened in the 1940s
because I’d read about it

But now, watching my own girls
pedal back and forth
I remember the day he pulled me aside
to point out the beauty of that bike:
the arched crossbar
hand-molded into the frame
for extra support
the steel-plated Shimano brakes
to hold off rust
the smooth action twist-grip shifter
for fast changes up hills.
This was when my mother was sick
and his business had failed
taking all the money too
but he brought home the best that he knew
and with a firm jaw and steady hand
sent me off to ride.

Published in Caduceus, 2012

The Moment

There you are by the Bodensee
on the Swiss side, where the lake and the river convene.
You’re alone. And you’re twenty years old.
There’s a bible in your pocket
because you think you’re born again
you just spent a week with a girl in Spain
and in three days you’ll be on People’s Express
heading home to friends who won’t know you anymore.
So this is it, the moment when everything before came to an end
and everything else after it began.
When you next look up –

there’s a ring on your finger
you’re mowing your own lawn
you’re sending your daughter to school
with her pigtails and missing tooth
that makes you wince with joy.
Your hair is gone.
You lie in bed in the morning gloom
counting costs you can’t meet
while the faucet drips down the hall.
Divorce threatens darkly over all.
So this is it, the moment when everything before
came to an end –

Back at the Rhine, you open your bible
in the alpine air, then put it away with a smile.
Maybe you’re a Buddhist now
so you settle back to watch a fisherman
cast his pole in the water over and over again
like possibility.

Published in US 1 Worksheets, Vol 55, 2011

I Dreamt About My Father, Young

he came to me in the shadows one night
his cologne sweet in the air
his whiskers rough as he said goodbye
and then I was ten years old again
seeking him out shyly for a catch
watching him work wrench, pulley and paint
feeling again that buzz and delight
at the garage door rumble
bringing him home at night
and sitting on the edge of his bed
as he put jacket, tie and sweater
back into that dim closet
I’ll roam when he has gone.

Published in the Delaware Valley Poets AnthologyThatchwork, 2010

Walking with Ursula

Ursula, who’s four, stops to smell the flowers
every one of them.
First she checks for bees,
then cups a bulb in both hands,
sinks in nose-deep, and breathes.
“Mmmm,” she says, tapping her belly
as if for cake. “Are flowers from people
or the earth?” she asks, and waits
as I figure this one out, then sees ice cream instead
so soon we’re strolling around Palmer Square
double-dipped vanilla down her arms, in her hair
to the tips of her toes, which peek out of flip-flops
with rainbows on them. As we pass
I see people nudge one another, point at my daughter
who is anointed by ice cream on a Sunday afternoon
in her blue summer dress, and they smile at her
at me, at each other, delighted
as by a field of flowers.

Published in US 1 Worksheets, Vol 57, 2012

Palisades Portrait, ‘74

A leafy hike, an autumn day
trailing behind my parents’ backs
hunting for treasures or that elusive stone
with a ring of white to stripe the gray
for wishing on.
Up the path, my mother’s hair
pulled back like a girl’s
falls to my father’s arm
holding tightly around her waist
Manhattan, dark and brooding, looms beyond.
I see them now, aside towering cliffs
walking towards oblivion:
My father, side-burned and sure in faded jeans
snapping photos with his Nikon;
my mother, flowered dress and doe-eyed pretty
smiling into a Kodachrome sun
of orange and red through falling leaves.

All poems copyright ©Eric Heller, unless otherwise indicated.